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tv   Tavis Smiley  WHUT  November 8, 2010 8:30am-9:00am EST

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>> good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. a conversation with popular singer songwriter, hughie lewis. hes his band has sold more than a million albums. he's paying tribute to the soulful sounds of thatch records. also tonight at the end fert week with focus on politician, we recall the legendry political speechwriter and writer, ted sorensen, the man that challenged a generation, by writing the words, ask not what you do -- what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. we're glad you joined us, singer
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songwriter, hughie lewis and remembering ted sorensen, coming up right now. >> all i know his name is james and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smilely. >> with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy, and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one nation at a time. >> and from crubt shuns from viewers like you. contributions from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ [captioning made possible by kcet public television] >> how cool to have hughie lewis
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on this program, along with his grammy winning band, the news, he's out with a new project paying tribute to stacks records. the new c.d. is called "soulsville." here's the recording session for the title track "soulsville." >> black man, born free. at least that's the way it is supposed to be. change. unless you take this walk with me. take it where it is. ♪ got plenty ♪ ♪ of names ♪ some ghetto and black bells ♪ ♪ [unintelligible] ♪
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tavis: so why of all of e things you could have covered, why the stacks vault? >> good question. i suppose, why not? it was originally our manager's idea bob brown and we thought good idea, a little apprehensive at first. the idea was not to do the ones everyone knows, but to go deeper in the catalog and find songs that other people hadn't maybe heard and capture them faithfully. we did it in memphis. we really had a labor of love for us. it was fun. >> is there stuff in the vault that even for hughie lewis and the news, you found untouchable? >> sure. otis redding tune was the hardest. we did "just one more day." what are you going to do, what otis tune, how you going to pull that off? we chose this one. interestingly we cut live, for the most part, nine pieces.
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we had a five piece horn section. they gave us "studio b" with a horn section and the other five in a. we had a video feed from the drummer. we cut nine pieces live. that tune "just one more day" which was the otis redding tune we cut in one complete take with no fixes or performances. i took it as a nod from the soul gods, it is okay, boys, go ahead and sipping it. tavis: i was going to ask what it felt like to record this in memphis. a better question now that i heard what you offered is how you record in memphis when half of your band is in one room and the other half is in the other room. >> we're all on the -- tavis: you can't -- >> the other interesting question is we're right there in arden studios and the first day we meet john frye who runs the place and did a lot -- engineered a lot of the original stuff and i said, i get it.
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i said to gym gaines, the coproducer, i said we're going to figure this out, because if these people in arden dig it, great, if not we know. tavis: how did you settle in the stuff in the vault? how did you settle on this 14 sth? >> it was not easy. we met as a band and did two-day rehearsals for batches of five. in eight days, we had 20 tunes. then in arden, we captured the performances. tf of -- tavis: what is it about the sound that is worth covering these years later? >> great question. stacks was the r & b without the trimmings as opposed to motown. stacks is not for everybody. it is primal and primitive. it is raw. the other thing is, what we like
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about that period, i think, is all of the voices. you know -- in your own words you got a horn section and background vocals and the people, and it is the diversity of the personalities in those voice that is makes it interesting. so the -- the music is to be cap occurred. i have come to -- we went down there and felt it all. it is very interesting to note that the -- that the backup pand on a lot of these originals was booker and the m.g.'s. they were two black guys and white guys that didn't put their picture on the album in a segregated south. and they were staying at the hotel where mar tip was shot. today we live in a much more integfwrated society. music has become seg freighted if you will. you got black music over here this was a wonderful fertile time. what is compelling about it, is not just the diversity of personality in the voices but the fact that it is -- you know, the life stories infused in the
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music. people, the original singers were singing the stuff weren't kidding. it was life and death stuff for them. >> you mentioned a moment ago, black guys and white guys, and the guys were talking about your musical corpus and picking our favorite hughie -- hughie lewis songs. if i were asked to put together my list of the hippest most soulful white guys that walked the planet, hughie lewis is on the list. you on there with elton john and kenny logens and now start a whole conversation here. there's a long list and i can't get to it. for you, what is all of this soul come from? >> i grew up in san francisco. my favorite radio station was k.d.i.a. tavis: that answers it. >> with the sister station. i lived on a steady diet of kdia. i didn't realize that nobody
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else realized who john salen was. i thought he was the administratest. tavis: most people don't know who ran salen is. >> this is what we grew up with. oddly enough. it is the thread that binds my band together. we like this tough. we're all suburban white kids from san francisco. tavis: it -- yo you were never intimidated by the music? >> at every stage. it is great idea. it doesn't hurt to work the songs up. the danger is when you release those. we did it step by step and as we began to go through the process, it felt natural. it was unbelievable. we're this memphis and john frye and larry knicks and all of these people are loving it. it was a very natural thing. tavis: so 10 years almost, since the last project, what have you been doing in the 10-year period other than touring?
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>> enough touring. we're not spring chickens nim so we don't work as hard as we used to. that way it is like falling in love all over again. we have been recording and writing as well. like i say, it is one thing to record and write, it is another thing to put a project together that you think has merit and release it. tavis: you're not spring chickens but you still got it. when you're on stage these days, you still get the same thing from it. it feels good. you still have fun? >> i mean, going to tell you the truth, we're still improving. tavis: hold on. you sold like 20-plus million record, -- records, how do you improve at this age? >> i think we're smarter about it and make better note choices. my range as a singer is not as good as it was, but -- and as a band we actually play better than ever. last -- that's first and foremost what we are is a hive band.
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the neat thing about the "soulsville" project, we play alive. it is good if not better than the record. easy to replicate. tavis: it is amazing to see you in concert, you wre remind me of another san francisco based group. a great band. one thing about mays and franky, when they hit the stage, if franky is not in good voice, it doesn't matter because the audience knows every lyric to every song and they'll sing him through it. your voice is in great shape. the same thing for you guys. you sing great music but it is sing along music. what is it like when you're up there and they could roll with every lyric? >> it is the best feeling in the world. we -- we -- musicians say they want to get in the pocket. when you get. there's a place when you -- when
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you're playing music that is not to machines or samples here. you're playing with each other. you try to get on the same page or the pocket. there's a point there where you're in the pocket. you look at each other and you go, wow. and the song begins to play and sing itself in a way. and you just ride that wave. and the crowd helps you with that. and it is the most exhilarating feeling in the world. doesn't happen every night. here and there. but when it happens, it is just like -- fantastic. tavis: it is one thing to be in the flow of your house or in your bedroom listening to black music on the radio. when did you know this was your gift and that you would do this for a living? this would be your calling, your vocation and purpose? >> when i went to college and joined my first sort of fraternity band. i played for a while. once i started -- joining a band, i found that although you know r & b was my favorite music to listen to, all music was fun
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to play. i ceased to become a snob. then we went out -- the harmonica led to other music and was in a country rock band for a while and we performed in this band. a couple of critics pointed this out. we produce the records ourselves and coproduce this with jim gaines our pal and producer. when we get done with it and i listen to the whole thing, it was mastered there and listen to the whole thing, back to front,ly a weird feeling and a couple of guys pointed out, it didn't sound dissimilar from hughie lewis and the news. we tried to stay real faithful. it was a something i realized, i was flued by these guys. i didn't think of it. flued by these guys. i didn't think of it. tavis: that's a compliment. did it find you, you and this harmonica, how did it happen? >> -- my parents are divorced when i was u or 2.
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my mother rented out a room to a border whose name was billie roberts. he played the guitar and harmonica thing. he gave me harps and i started to play them. i graduated from -- from high school in a year young. i was 16 years old. my father sat me down and had this -- this sort of man-to-man chat about how, i was -- as far as he was concerned i was grown and could do anything i wanted to. my decisions were my own. i turned 16 in july. one more thing, don't go to clean yet. one more thing, don't go to clean, bum around europe for a year. dad -- i want to go to school. i want to play baseball. he said no, i'll make you do it. i brought the harmonicas and plays my way through. tavis: -- >> i met other players.
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when i came back to the states, i went to cornell university for five minutes over a two-year period. and then joined bands. then i began to study other players and stuff. >> wow. i guess i could have started our conversation. but sense you mention you love baseball, i started by -- i could have started by congratulating you and the san francisco giants. >> big story. tavis: how big is that? >> really big. tavis: that was a great series. they they put so many runs on the board. >> i never seen, i've been watching world series since i was 11. the pitching was unbelievable. tavis: had you not been u hughie lewis of hughie lewis and the news, was baseball a wreal option for you? >> i was going to be a pro player and then i turned 11. tavis: that's funny.
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i assume then you're as proud of this as anything you've done. sco >> i am. i hope -- i think it is our best work. not to bemayber the point. the nice thing. i talked about the integrated mugse musicians, in a world politically as well, if you're a right-winger, you could watch tv shows where nobody disagrees with you. if you're a left winger, you watch shows where nobody disagrees. that's not healthy. this was a great healthy period in american popular music. we're happy to pay tribute. >> here we are in the election week with hughie lewis and the news, bringing us together. we could sing together if we get the c.d. it is hue -- hughie lewis and the news. it is the stacks vault and they come out with 14 beautiful tracks. stuff you may not know. if you hear hughie and the guys,
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you'll love it. up next, a conversation with ted sorensen who passed away earlier this week. stay with us. tavis: finally tonight, during this week with so much attention focused on american politician, we say good-bye to one of the most flual influential persons in politician. he wrote president kennedy's inaugural address. he published his memoir and joined us for an extensive conversation about the kennedys. i asked him to recall a speech given that was given on the night of king's assassination. >> i didn't write speeches for
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bobby except on rare occasions. the night of king's death, bobby called me from his plane and said he would call me back in an hour. would i please have something ready? he had a great team of speech writers. in an hour i wrote out something. i was emotional because both bobby and i reacted to dr. king's death -- with the -- with the thought of jack kennedy's death in our minds. i wrote a piece about the -- the stupidy and folly of violence in america. and interestingly enough, a movie last year about bobby or r.f.k., i forget the title of the movie now, it closes with the voiceover of bobby giving that speech about violence. >> martin luther king dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings.
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he died in the cause of that effort. in this difficult day, in this divinget time for the united states, it is pressed well to ask what kind of a nation we are. what direction we want to move in. >> since you mentioned that speech and bobby -- bobby being torn apart of course by -- by the assassination of dr. king. you were there, so you know this. that bobby kennedy had to work his way toward being regarded in the civil rights community. for all we do to remember bobby as the great hero and he was in so many ways, if we're honest about this, he had a journey to take to become the compassionate person he was around those issues around black people in america. yes? >> that's very true.nnedy broth in office and bobby grew as jack did in their recognition of --
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of the way black citizens had been treated unfairly for so long and as me became more and more involved in the civil rights movement, and a defy -- defiance by george c. wallace and other southern governors, bobby felt more strongly about it each tavis: beyond the fact he was more exposed to it and he embraced it better, beyond being exposed to it. was there something about bobby that helped him get that than being exposed. love is not necessarily contagious. >> very well said, you ought to be a speechwriter. tavis: no. i can't do that like you can. >> i had bround in the civil rights movement myself and i had influence on jack and jack had influence on bobby. tavis: how much?
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>> he would have done anything for his brother, they loved each other and worked closely together. there's no doubt in my mind that the day -- right -- i write about it in the book, the day after jack's assassination, bobby came into my white house office, he just stood there for a moment. he was wearing dark glasses to cover his puffy red-filled eyes. we just looked at each other knowing that we had both taken a terrible blow. tavis: how much closer and why in fact did they become closer, bobby and teddy in the aftermath of jack's death? >> now you're asking a tough question on family psychology. teddy was almost a different generation. he was enough younger that although his two older brothers were proud of him filling jack's
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senate seay seat from massachusetts and the fact is teddy has been a better member of the u.s. senate than either jack or bobby was. but of course jack's death increased the unity of the family and teddy was involved with bobby's campaign in 1968, along with -- with steve smith, their brother-in-law and with me. tavis: has teddy been a better senator to your earlier point merely because he had more time or am i not drilling down deep enough on this? >> more time has a lot to do with it but he's proven to be a good legislate tore and good about reaching across the aisle and working with the republicans to get more done. tavis: this is a deposits book and a wonderful read. i'm glad i have you in person
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tonight to ask you how it is you navigate personally these kind of anniversaries, like the 40th anniversary of uponny's assassination? >> it gets easier as the decades go by. but i'll never forget those -- those two terrible days, november 22nd, 1963, june 5th and 6th 1968 when i couldn't believe it was happening all over again. i just couldn't believe it. >> in the middle offer those two, april 4th, the assassination of dr. king, how -- having seen all of that and been as close to that as you were, how have you -- how have you navigated a life where you remained hopeful about america and about the body politic, quite frankly? >> number one, my parents raised me to care about this country
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and about -- trying to make it a better country and better world. i learned from jack kennedy that almost anything is possible if good people will get behind it. i was -- i just made up my mind after jack's death that i wasn't going to permit a lunatic who was a lucky sharpshooter to deter me from my -- my life's goals and the implementation of jack kennedy's goals. tavis: those life goals have meant what? it is obviously more than just writing speeches which is not unimportant, when you do it for a president. what are those life goals been for you? >> the "new york times" a few weeks back asked me if -- if -- kennedy's speechwriter doesn't sum up my life as a -- as a headline for my obituary when that time comes. what would i like in its place and i thought for a moment and i
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said, servant of peace and justice would be okay. tavis: as ted told me late in his life, he remained hopeful about the state of american politician. words we could heed during one of the most contentious election cycles in an era. he passed away, one of the last living links of the kennedy era known as camelot. we'll leave you with the lasting legacy, john f. kennedy's inaugural address of 1961. good night from los angeles and as always, keep the faith. >> i do not believe that any of us would explaining places with any other people or any other generation. the energy, the faith, the devotion, which we -- we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. and the glow from that fire can
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truly light the world. so my fellow americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley atant.org. >> i'm tavis smiley. join me next time with superstar josh roben on the release of his latest c.d. we'll see you next time. >> all i know my name is james and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports
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that's smiley. with every question and every answer, they're proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one nation at a time. nationwi on your side. and by contributions from -- to pbs stations from viewers like you. thank you. tavis:
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